Andrew Nunnelly

Just because you own the company, doesn’t mean that you own the experience. Whether you rely on frontlines or franchisees, many business leaders must trust individuals far beyond their immediate reach to dictate customer experience and represent brand. This is not a new concept in business. However, it’s something the rising “Shareconomy” must deal with on an entirely new level. In a world where companies are increasingly reying on third parties to deliver their experience — how do they provide an experience that earns customer loyalty?

It’s one of tech’s billion dollar questions — and far from an easy one to answer. No matter how sleek the app or fun the promotional swag, if a given company fails to deliver a quality product, people will go elsewhere. And with significantly smaller barriers to entry in the shareconomy, customers tend to have more than one option. Creating a consistent brand experience is probably these startups’ best shot at retaining customers and growing their base, but doing so with such a decentralized model is incredibly difficult.

In their article, The three Cs of customer satisfaction: Consistency, consistency, consistency, McKinsey & Company looks back at their work with companies as well as at a recent study to make the conclusion: “It may not seem sexy, but consistency is the secret ingredient to making customers happy.” They explain that a consistent customer experience not only results in high satisfaction, but also in trust — which, in turn, is highly correlated with loyalty.

The leaders in the shareconomy — Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar for ride/car shares; Airbnb and VRBO for lodging rentals; TaskRabbit and Vayable for services; Munchery and Postmates for food — are essentially middlemen. They use technology to facilitate connections between supply and demand — customers and “sellers.” The sellers sign-up or apply to offer a good or service, undergo a vetting process and training of variable stringency, and are then open for business.

Unfortunately for these companies, it’s unlikely that customers are making the delineation between the middlemen and the sellers. As McKinsey points out, the customer journey as a whole is what will create a positive or negative brand impression and any related loyalty. Airbnb is comfiness of the bed as much as it is the UX of its website.

So given this, how do shareconomy companies bring consistency and quality assurance into their “products” (provided by the sellers), and in doing so, ensure the experience? First, it’s a matter of finding things in common with traditional franchising models and learning from them. This doesn’t mean creating an experience-in-a-box that makes every interaction identical. Not even all McDonalds are the same. What it means for these shareconomy startups is to understand what’s going well and what’s going poorly and then adapt their rules and policies — their playbook — for new “sellers” based on these insights. This will help insert that small (but important) amount of consistency that customer satisfaction relies on.

The most effective and scalable way to do this is to constantly collect customer feedback. The ride app Uber has done an excellent job of this. At the end of every ride and before a rider can request a new one, they must rate the ride experience — and provide specific feedback in the event that a ride is subpar. Not only does this help Uber collect data on big customer pain/comfort points, but it also helps them move swiftly to remove any bad drivers from the pool.

The result is an undeniably consistent customer experience. When it’s not, customers are likely to dismiss it as anomalous and feel confident that their feedback is valued and actioned upon.

Others — like the rideshare app, Lyft — also collect customer feedback, but seemed to have made an active decision not to strive for consistency. Instead of grooming their drivers or homogenizing the experience they provide, Lyft encourages individuality. They’ve decided to make inconsistency a part of the process — and empowered drivers to express some personality.

But this can backfire. It makes quality control even harder than it already is (ask Airbnb). While some consumers might look at aberration as “quirk,” companies that embrace inconsistency might find it hard to break out of niche markets and into the mainstream.

The real winners in this new space will not just be those who listened to customers, but those that did the most with what they heard. They will use it to quality control and continuously improve — in order to create consistency.  At the risk of sounding cheesy: perhaps the real sharing in the shareconomy comes with customer feedback.

Photo credit: Alfredo Mendez